Countdown to Commencement: Olivia Burke

Countdown to Commencement: Olivia Burke

Olivia Burke is a typical college senior – excited for graduation, a little nervous about where she’ll land her first teaching job. So it may a surprise to know how skillfully she has managed a chronic illness almost her entire life, making necessary adjustments to become the first in her family to go to a four-year college.

Olivia is one of 30,000 people in the U.S. living with cystic fibrosis, a genetic, life-threatening disease that causes persistent lung infections and progressively limits the ability to breathe. She was diagnosed at 1 year old.

“I really haven’t known anything different. This is my normal,” says the spunky Tiffin resident. To make time for her daily treatments, “I just do a lot of multi-tasking, and I’m really organized.”

Olivia takes breathing treatments three times every day, starting her mornings at 4:30. She also has other daily medications that assist with digestion. “I’m very compliant with everything I do,” she says. “I want to stay healthy. I have lots of things I want to accomplish.”

Every 2-3 months, Olivia travels to Toledo for X-rays and lung function tests. She has managed to stay healthy in large part because of a positive attitude and having her priorities in order.

“It’s always been health first and social stuff after,” she says. “I’ve been surrounded by good friends and supportive professors and students on campus. No one freaks out about it.” Olivia’s professors and classmates feel comfortable asking her questions about her condition; she’s equally comfortable speaking about it -- so much so that she did her senior capstone project on cystic fibrosis.

Heidelberg’s small classes have been beneficial for Olivia, 22, as have the opportunities in the School of Education and the English Department to present at conferences. As a commuter, she’s found plenty of ways to get involved on campus. In addition to serving as co-president of the education honorary Kappa Delta Pi and secretary of the Heidelberg Student Education Association, she’s active with The Kilikilik as campus editor and with the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She also coaches volleyball year round and 7th-grade track in the spring.

Following graduation, she’ll have a new generation to educate, when she’ll be licensed to teach 7-12 English and K-12 special education. Ideally, she’d like to teach reading and English special ed.

“I had great elementary and high school teachers who inspired me,” Olivia says. The cooperating teacher for her student teaching was her high school English teacher at Old Fort Schools, Jeremy Zender. “I’ve enjoyed every single field placement. The students have made things interesting and fun.

“Teaching is a great career to be able to help people. I want to inspire students to have that a-ha moment. I can’t wait for the day when I hear a student say Miss Burke inspired me.”

She definitely has not let her health issues slow her down. “It’s just a part of life, just another task. If I do things right, it will be worth it to get to experience all of the fun things in life.”

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